30 Under 30: Catherine Tradd
San Diego, CA
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Catherine “Cat” Tradd grew up a cowgirl helping to raise longhorns on her family’s ranch 30 miles west of Austin, TX. Today, she supervises 51 machinists, mechanics, assemblers and inspectors at Solar Turbines (San Diego, CA), a Caterpillar subsidiary that manufactures industrial gas turbines.
Her journey from Texas to turbines began when Cat saw a TV program about scientists making limbs for wounded soldiers. It appealed to her passion for people and her desire to make a difference in the world—things that still motivate her. Then, when she was 12, Cat attended a Careers in Engineering for Women program at the University of Texas, Austin. Hooked, after high school she gave up tending longhorns to become a Longhorn, majoring in Mechanical Engineering at UT Austin.
“What pushed me into the manufacturing world,” said Cat, “was I got some great advice about taking a lot of internships. I started with Schlumberger and then I went to Caterpillar. The heartbeat of the shop got into the soles of my feet and I loved it. I interned with Caterpillar for three summers. My first year was as a designer. The second was in manufacturing. The last was in test and development, but I really fell in love with the manufacturing.”
Following graduation, she accepted a job with Caterpillar and spent the next three years in the company’s Manufacturing Professional Development Program before being offered a position at Solar Turbines.
According to Stacey DelVecchio, who nominated Cat for 30 Under 30, “Tradd has established herself in three different areas of manufacturing—operations supervision, logistics planning and manufacturing processing. She’s also made her mark in product lines as diverse as large mining trucks, motor graders, undercarriage and turbines.”
Cat truly enjoys what she’s doing.
“It feels homey,” she said. “It’s fun. It’s not every day that you make something so big that you can’t even wrap your arms around it. It’s really something to see these castings that are turned into precision parts. Plus, I know that the work I’m doing makes a difference. It results in an engine that goes in a village in the middle of South America where it produces energy that powers a light bulb so that a 4-year-old can learn to read.”
The people factor is still as strong a force with her as when she watched that TV program about prosthetics. “I have a passion for people, the people I work with and the people who benefit from what we make. That’s my favorite part of the job.” She has implemented safety walks and talks in the work areas she has supervised and developed the role of Safety Improvements Leader. She, said DelVecchio, “communicates with her employees and is genuinely caring.”
“The engineering degree for me,” said Cat, “was a universal ticket. It taught me how to think in a very disciplined, logical way. And you can use that anywhere. It gives people the ability to face whatever comes their way. ”
What may be coming her way next is working towards an MBA. “I think,” she said, “an MBA will help me make use of my people-passion skills.” ME